Sunday, March 12, 2017

Hive Mind: Futures (and Fantasies) Worth Fighting For

This is the Hive Mind column, where we ask fans from all around Chicago for suggestions.

Going into 2017, the future seems even scarier than usual for many of us. Rather than having you pick your favorite dystopia of the moment, however, we'd like to share a more positive reading list. So, we asked people to contribute some Futures (and Fantasies) Worth Fighting For: what are the fictional worlds or societies that make you hopeful, that you'd like to live in, or that give you inspiration? We're interested in utopian ideas, visions of just societies in fantastic realms, non-doomsday takes on climate change, and more.

News From Nowhere
William Morris (1890)

This is such a great (and I think central to SF) topic that it's hard to know what to pick -- humans modifying their species being to live with the whales in Vonda McIntyre's Superluminal? The struggle over terraforming Mars or learning how to be a different kind of planetary creature in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars books? The Dispossessed?

I could go on, but instead I want to recommend William Morris's News From Nowhere (1890), which is a utopia that can help to remind you that utopias aren't closed-off, completed, perfect (or supposedly perfect) societies. Utopias are imaginings of ways of living that genuinely transform human relations, that allow our struggles and hopes to take on a shape that's weird and maybe surprising and usually not at all perfect, but still different in a way that lets us remember that the historical conditions we live in aren't natural or permanent but made by us (and thus amenable to us changing them). What I love about News from Nowhere is that it's a world where work is totally different, so different that it's wrong to call it work. And that because work is not what it is to us (not wage labor, say), time and absorption and interest and engagement are all different too. Morris shows the beauty of this place where people make and exchange out of the love of making and exchanging. And he also shows (through the confusion of the world traveler who unfolds the story with us) that in such a remaking of human life you end up losing some things too, including big things. I love that this novel makes you think about being different, being communally different, and what it might be worth giving up to have those different relations with each other.

Hilary Strang teaches critical theory, science fiction, and nineteenth century British novels in Chicago.

Kim Stanley Robinson (2012)

2312 is one future worth fighting for, because it shows that while individuals are greedy, mean, and selfish, collectively we have the power to build greater things. Examples of this would be the solar-power based buildings, eco-refuges, and gentle acceptance of trans* identities. I firmly believe in a future where we aren't limited by individual vision.

Elijah is a queer software engineer based in Rogers Park. He's been reading sci-fi since he was 12, and has found his karass in Think Galactic, which meets monthly at Myopic Books in Wicker Park. 

Tove Jansson (published 1945-1993)

Moominvalley from the Moomin books by Tove Jansson. Any world where the worst thing that happens from the tall, dark stranger coming to town is that you have to deal with floating, fluffy clouds is a world alright by me.
Dominic Loise is the manager of the West Loop bookstore for Open Books, a non-profit literacy organization. Open Books hosts a ton of programs, including science fiction collaborations with Positron & other groups. Keep up with them on Twitter @openbooks.

China MiƩville (2011)

Embassytown by China MiĆ©ville was an inspiring read. A society with the technological prowess in the novel (and a unique concept for space travel) makes at least that aspect of the book a thing to aspire toward. Yet imagining (and hoping to become akin to) the world of Embassytown—in a unique ecosystem, on the brink of undiscovered frontiers, in a society leaping toward change and embracing new discovery—is utterly fantastic. The power of language, truth and lies, and the will to discovery lies at the heart of the novel. It constantly demonstrates the value of rigorous intellectualism and reevaluating assumptions at every moment, and it's especially fun if you're a linguist (and very comfortable with neologisms). Even with the violence inherent to the book, and inherent to moments of great change, Embassytown is a future I would want to see: humanity is exploring the universe, growing with multiple interstellar cultures, and fighting for intellectual discovery.

Jamie Waters is the communications coordinator at the Newberry Library where she finds historical inspiration for her sci-fi fanaticism. Visit the library for your own research or follow the Newberry on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook  for more literary events and archival inspiration.

Radio Free Albemuth
Philip K. Dick (1985)

In a depiction of his own gnostic insights, Dick presents an even more insidious and Nixonian victor of the 1968 election than Nixon himself, opposed by an entity known as VALIS that beams the truth (plus instructions on toppling those in power), to a science fiction writer eponymously named Philip K. Dick. Only published after his death, flawed in terms of writing and its depiction of most everyone who isn't an alter ego of himself, Dick manages to send a burst message of hope that dictators can be opposed and eventually defeated.

John Lodder is a Think Galactic member & organizer, and occasionally shares some scholarly insight on PKD & other topics.

The Hainish Cycle
Ursula K. Le Guin (1966-ongoing)

I think I primarily read for worlds and futures I want to live in—either as a temporary adventure away from this one, or a world that I hope to see us working towards in reality. I really like far-future, star-spanning tales partially because they have this optimistic underpinning: whatever else is going on, we made it that far! A lot of space opera and related science fiction often takes place against a background of at-least-partial utopia; the plot of a novel needs tension and action and all that juicy stuff, so the utopian elements often aren't the main focus.

They're significantly more in focus in Le Guin's books about the Ekumen (The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed are probably the most widely-read), an interplanetary government-of-sorts in the far future, where the descendants of the Hainish (including Earth) are reconnecting. What I find most inspiring about these is the idea of societies and governments that have actually become...wise, and compassionate, though not perfect. The Ekumen is underpinned by human rights, environmental sustainability and harmony, and a notion of progress that is personal—spiritual, artistic, intellectual—rather than merely technological or wealth-based. Le Guin uses the Ekumen, not as a fantasy that would be nice, but as a compass: when problems do arise, as in the complex and all-too-familiar sexism, racism, and war that is the prelude to Four Ways to Forgiveness, the Ekumenical ideals give Le Guin's characters—and readers—something to work for.

Jake Casella is Positron's editor.

Have a future worth fighting for you'd like to share? Sound off in the comments! And please email if you'd like to be involved in future Hive Minds.

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